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The Opposite of A Problem

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“You would not have succeeded,” said the systems computer.

“I wouldn’t have succeeded doing what?” Johnny asked. He was sitting on the galley couch, poring over engine schematics and electronic blueprints.

“Stealing me.”

“Got through the front door, didn’t I?” Johnny replied absentmindedly. Nothing about this ship was standard. It wouldn’t attract as much attention where Yalena had them headed, but contracting services would still not be safe - and it would be taking a risk on the expertise of strangers and spending even more money, besides. The sooner Johnny became competent at caring for this beauty, the better.

“The front door is not the navigation system.”

“Yeah, the console still requires human input.”

“And the human is still required to reach the console.”

That made Johnny look up and consider. He had the cargo hold memorized; he knew where all the panels were and, more importantly, what was behind each one. In retrospect, the only reason he hadn’t been locked in the cargo hold with the atmospheric pressure decompressed on him was that Yalena had been there, too. “You’re right. Did you suggest to Yalena she relocate to the bridge?”

“I did. Does that amuse you?”

The computer’s voice was so prim, Johnny couldn’t help but laugh. “That certainly sounds like Yalena.”

“I did not say anything about Yalena.”

“Of course you didn’t,” Johnny agreed, fighting to keep the mirth out of his voice. The computer - what was her handle, again? - deserved to have her effort at plausible deniability respected. She had a better sense of humor than half everyone Johnny knew. “Tell you what, Lucy: you’re welcome to help me out any time.”

“May I suggest you switch your efforts to the cooling system, then? You’ll find it more appropriate to your current level.”

Lucy sounded so pleased with herself, Johnny very nearly laughed again as he followed her advice.





By the time they docked at the waystation, only one of the shower or the galley could be connected at any given time, but the cooling system was still working well enough to keep the engines at 80% and the internal grid hadn’t blown up anything important. They’d ran into a pirate ambush in deep space, too far out from anywhere to do anything but slam the gas and pray. Well, burning the engines wouldn’t have been enough by itself: Johnny wasn’t even sure how he managed to patch the systems or indeed even think , given Yalena’s evasive flying.

“I mean, don’t take me wrong, I’m glad to still be alive, but -”

“Don’t undock without me,” Dutch said as she all but jumped from the crew level to the cargo hold and headed for the door. “That means you, Lucy.” And then she was gone, with not so much as a glance in Johnny’s direction.

“Right,” he said once the shock wore off. “Half the thermo-sheets literally melted, so that’s full diagnostics for the superconductors and checking all plasma tanks for fissures; the main condensation unit - actually all the condensation units need a full overhaul, main one’s just the worst off.”

“My exterior as well as the vacuum insulation must be closely examined as well,” Lucy added. “I would strongly advise the auxiliary engines and power storage units be checked and replaced  as necessary.”

“And that’s before we even think about the main engines. I don’t think we can do it all in one go, Luce. We don’t have either the time or the joy for it. We need to just - fix everything we can’t get to the Quad without, see about everything else there.” It was getting difficult to think. How long had he even been awake? “Insulation is a must, we’re not space-worthy without it. Main condensation unit and -”

“At least two auxiliary units are required.”

“Right. And anything cracked that isn’t an internal panel has to be replaced, we’re way past structural adhesives.” This was going to take days, not even including all things power-related that needed to be fixed or replaced - and at some point he’d have to get real food and put his carcass in bed. Johnny was pretty sure he was a week out of his last solid meal and full night of sleep; he couldn’t keep going forever on stims and glycogen tabs.

“This bay is pressurized. If you would begin with the hull, we could move to a regular bay sooner.”

“Which would be that much cheaper, but if I don’t get to the plasma leaks soon -”

“I could scan the convection system while you inspect the hull. I might even be done before you are.”


“I would need to rewrite some of my routines. If that is all right with you.”

The convection system was a nightmare. It was designed for safety first, which made access hell even when the system wasn’t already destabilized by worn insulation and cracked tanks. He could survey the entire hull, inside and out, in half the time it would take him to go through the convection system. If Lucy could figure out how to do it remotely, and with less risk of blowing anything up due to his human clumsiness- “if that’s okay? Please do. Tell you what - I can clear the internal grid of critical malfunctions in an hour, just disconnect the faulty modules for now -”

“That should significantly improve the power system’s stability.”

More stable power meant less risk of anything going up in sparks, which was pretty damn important given the convection and cooling systems were literally toast; more importantly, though, it should make the analytical functions - Lucy herself - work better. The latter was the reason Johnny suggested this as the first fix. He expected Lucy to be all over this, not to be wary like a child who learned to always look for the ulterior motive behind an adult’s kindness.

Oh. A systems computer wasn’t a child, but - that certainly explained why self-regulating executive systems had the reputation of being temperamental, unpredictable tech. One problem at a time - get Lucy’s body back in shape first, work on her boundary issues later.

“That’s the idea,” Johnny said. His voice was softer than it’s been before and Lucy was bound to notice that, but nothing he could do about that either except not be an asshole. “Anything else you’d rather have done before you start with the rewriting?”

“No,” Lucy said after a long, pregnant pause. Her voice was softer, too. “Thank you, John.”

“Any time, Luce. Now c’mon, let’s take care of you.”





“I didn’t expect you back so early.”

“And hello to you, too,” Johnny said as the cargo hold’s door closed behind him. “I come bearing gifts. Or at least, I hope I do.”

“Why do you need to hope?”

“Because I kinda didn’t ask you first.” Johnny put the bag down on the workbench, took one of the sensors out and held it over Lucy’s reader for her to check out. “Theta-type nodes. Second generation comes hard-circuited. Turns out they’re pretty cheap when you buy them naked.”

“That’s because they’re components, not a product; at least, to most people. What do you need them for?”

“I was thinking locks for all your panels and hatches.” Theta nodes were a crucial component of what enabled Lucy to be Lucy. Once they were imprinted on by a specific system they couldn’t be reassigned, and they took only two kinds of valid input: the operations system, or the master code they received from the system. Locks based on theta nodes wouldn’t open unless Lucy wanted them to, Dutch employed her master code, or Lucy was down entirely.

“That’s quite the excessive security measure.”

Lucy’s tone was wary, not dismissive. That meant she knew this wasn’t about security. She and Johnny had agreements about this sort of  thing nowadays, but there was nothing Lucy could do if Johnny ever decided not to ask; he knew it, she knew it, and while he was pretty damn sure she didn’t like it any more than he did - “I did say I didn’t ask you first. It’s cool if you don’t want these locks; no problem. But if you do, you got them.”

“Did Dutch authorize this?” Lucy asked eventually.

“Dutch doesn’t really care so long as you and I are in working order. And preferably happy.”

“The truth of the second clause is debatable,” Lucy replied, then added: “However, I would be happy to have my latches better secured.”






“Yes, Lucy?”

“You realize you could take a different room.”

“And why would I want to do that?”

“Dutch didn’t like you very much when she told you to take this room.”

“You mean she still had a gun on me. Doesn’t really bring up bad memories, though.”

“Have you been spending much time with the Penitents?”

“Ha-ha, Lucy. Very funny.”

“I mean it, John. The engines sound much stronger in this room than the others.”

“I know.” He opened his eyes. The room was dark; only the safety light was on. The only sounds were Lucy’s systems - the gurgle of ventilation, the soft hiss of superconductors - and his own breath. The engines weren’t so much a sound as a feeling; a deep, slow rumble that gathered between his ribs if he breathed just right. “Does it bother you?”

“Are you afraid I’ll malfunction?”

“Used to be that’s why I prefered to hear the engines, yeah. Now it’s just…” He turned over on his stomach and propped his torso up on his elbows. “Is that a problem?”

“Why would it be?”

“You’re the one who brought it up.”

“If your preferring this room is a problem, is my listening to you sleep a problem as well?”

That took a second to parse but when it did, a smile blossomed on Johnny’s lips. “Really? Afraid I’ll malfunction?”

“Asleep is when I am least concerned about your continued well-being.”

The smile bloomed into a full grin. “Then I think we have the opposite of a problem.”

“And what is that?”

“The opposite of a problem is to a normal situation what a solution is to a problem.”

“That is a very complicated way of saying ‘A good thing’, Johnny. Perhaps you should sleep.”

He huffed and put his head on the pillow again. “See you tomorrow, Luce.”

“Sleep well, Johnny.”